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Supermarkets now wooing children

(ran ST TP editions)

You may be aware that supermarkets target you for business, using strategies such as frequent shopper clubs, in-store promotions and free samples as well as kiosks that offer coupons and recipes in exchange for vital consumer information. What you might not know is that your supermarket may be going after a much younger and less discriminating consumer, your child.

According to a new report by FIND/SVP of New York City, sales of kids' foods are expected to rise in 1998 to $10-billion. The U.S. Census estimates that there are 38-million children in the 5-to-15 age bracket, and they not only have substantial disposable income of their own, but they have a major influence on their families' expenditures as well.

According to the NPD Group, a research company based in Rosemont, Ill., adults in households with children eat more chicken nuggets, macaroni and cheese, presweetened cereal and peanut butter and jelly than adults in houses without little eaters.

Many stores are going directly after kids' business by forming kids' clubs similar to the preferred shopper clubs for adults. Through the club, the kids may receive their own club card, a newsletter, birthday cards and even free gifts both within and outside of the store.

One chain, IGA Fleming, has a program called IGA Hometown Kids, whose operators have spon-sored activities for club members ranging from free bowling outings to hot-air balloon rides. Other stores have specially designated kids' days at the store, which include kid-friendly food and entertainment.

Some stores have gone so far as to establish child care centers. Not only does this make shopping easier for parents, but since young children begin associating the supermarket with fun and games, they may actually want to accompany Mom or Dad on their outings as they get older.

On a smaller scale, more stores are offering amenities such as miniature supermarket carts and cookie clubs that entitle children to a free treat every week. They also are turning to "education," with in-store nutritional tours and cooking lessons.

Stores also foster good will among parents and their children by donating valuable items such as computers to local schools, depending on the number of receipts shoppers collect.

All of these programs have their advantages, but parents should keep a thought in mind: Cookies and free gifts shouldn't divert shoppers _ young or old _ from the very real task of carefully checking prices, evaluating the foods that end up in shopping carts for value and nutrition and expecting to be treated well in all respects at the place where we shop.

Phil Lempert is editor of the Lempert Report Newsletter, which analyzes food and supermarket trends. His e-mail address is PLempertTribune.com.

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